When Adnan Durrani jumped from Wall Street into the organic food business three decades ago, he found himself the only person showing up at trade shows in a suit. “They were a bunch of hippies,” he recalls.
But he quickly found he had something in common with them that is more important than any dress code: he and the others in organic food lines share a passion for doing business in socially responsible ways. Over the years he and his venture capital firm hit it big with several healthy food and beverage companies.
Then the Pakistani-born, Muslim-American entrepreneur launched the American Halal Company and its signature Saffron Road brand, with halal food entrees that made their way into the frozen food section of supermarkets.
Halal, an Arabic word for permissible, means food prepared in ways allowed under Islamic law, including humane animal slaughter. But Durrani sees it as more than that and akin to the values that first drew him to “the NOSH movement: natural, organic, sustainable and healthy.” It’s also about giving back. “How are you treating your employees and distributors? What are you doing for the community? Are you just gorging profits or putting some of them back?”
Durrani was an early member of the Social Venture Network, a mutual support group for CEOs who believe that profits must be balanced with social responsibility. He learned from the owners of Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Seventh Generation and similar companies.
“Their values were very similar to the values of my faith, which were about making a reasonable profit … but also paying living wages and giving back to the earth,” says Durrani.
His company’s sales top $50 million a year, and more than 80 percent of customers are non-Muslims drawn by food made with natural, healthier ingredients. Its success brings to mind the famous advertising slogan for Hebrew National kosher hot dogs: “We answer to a higher authority.”
None of his earlier ventures — Vermont Pure Spring Water and big investments in Stonyfield Yogurt and a fruit juice–sweetened cookie — was halal or targeted in particular at American Muslim consumers. But market research led Durrani to conclude that the dietary needs of American Muslims were overlooked in groceries, just as supermarkets once ignored Hispanic Americans and their cuisine. “That’s how I decided to go into the halal niche,” he says.
Durrani’s company donates to food banks, shelters and charitable organizations working in distressed communities. It earmarks 2 percent of sales for charity during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that began May 15 in the United States.
Saffron Road sells sauces, broths, snacks and other delectables in addition to frozen entrees. Durrani is hoping halal food will follow the same trajectory in the United States that it did in Europe, where sales exploded after supermarkets created halal aisles. “It’s a marketer’s dream,” he says.